Interview with Dr. Cliff Coppersmith, President of Chesapeake College

Interview with Dr. Cliff Coppersmith, President of Chesapeake College

EEDC: Is summer enrollment being impacted by COVID 19??

Dr. Coppersmith:  So far, we have very solid enrollment for summer. We’re actually above our 2018 registrations but still slightly below the summer of 2019. But that’s primarily because we have fewer offerings. We have about 90% of our schedule from last year. The 10% difference being the fact that we’re not conducting on-campus labs or skilled trades kinds of things, such as CDL truck driving and some other programs. So that’s a very healthy sign for us.

EEDC: Are these courses being taught online or on campus?

Dr. Coppersmith: Everything this summer is online, although we are beginning to open up very limited instruction on campus to help us complete some health science programs. Those programs were interrupted when we stopped doing on-campus stuff in late March, so we’re trying to get all those programs back on track. Those include the health science field, such as CNA and radiation technology. We’re hoping that by June 10th, we’ve got our protocols on how we’re going to handle students as they return to campus all in place.

EEDC: What types of safety precautions is Chesapeake College planning?

Dr. Coppersmith: We’ve been training both leadership and faculty, and some employees, on protocols that we’ve vetted with the Queens County health department in terms of tracking people. Every day when they come in, they’ll have their temperature taken and answer questions about any possible exposure or symptoms that we should be concerned about. We’re talking probably fewer than 20 students at any given time will be on campus. They’ll be socially distancing doing mostly laboratory kind of activities that you can’t do online.

EEDC: Are you planning to continue with these safety precautions in the fall?

Dr. Coppersmith: We’re hoping that this is going to be a good pilot for us as we prepare to expand that presence on campus, hopefully in August, with the skilled trades of welding and CDL truck driving. So, it’s going to be limited, and we’re being cautious. We want to make sure we learn our lessons as we go, and we don’t put anybody at risk.

Fall will mostly be online with some limited skill trades instruction in the labs. And then we’re hoping by the middle of October, if everything is working well and a state directive permits us, we would expand to more laboratory types of activities on campus, such as hard sciences like chemistry.

EEDC: There have been predictions that because of COVID 19, college students will be making decisions to complete or start school closer to home. This will mean a growth in enrollment at places like Chesapeake College. Has that been your experience?

Dr. Coppersmith: Obviously, there’s all kinds of conjecture that we could see an increase in enrollment because of students wanting to stay home that normally would be going away to school. We’re not seeing evidence of that yet. And I think it’s because parents and students are still waiting to see what their university does or is going to do.

The University of Maryland just announced a mix of online and some limited on-campus instruction, but I don’t think there’s a lot of details about that yet. Salisbury hasn’t made any solid statements about how they’re going to handle a residence life, living on campus. That, of course, is the biggest challenge with COVID. How do you socially distance college students in dormitories? But for us, of course, we’re a commuter campus, and we don’t have that worry, but we certainly have to worry about how we’re going to have students on campus, if and when we do so.

EEDC: Before COVID with record employment, businesses were scrambling for talent, now there are those who are recently unemployed and are unlikely to be re-employed by the same industry once the new economy gets going. Do you see any trends there?

Dr. Coppersmith: We probably are going to have several folks who are going to want to enter new careers if their primary jobs have been impacted by unemployment, either furloughs or layoffs. We go through that every time there’s an economic downturn. People want to either get into a new field or upgrade their current skills. So, we’re working on a number of those probabilities at this point. I couldn’t tell you what the trends are.

EEDC: What are you anticipating, as far as enrollment, for the fall semester?

Dr. Coppersmith: Our enrollment, so far for fall, is below where it was last year at this time, but that could be because we’re two weeks behind our schedule. We started enrolling both existing and new students two weeks later than we usually do because we wanted to make sure we were clearly communicating to students what we’re going to do.

But I’m sensing that students and parents are waiting for all kinds of reasons. It’s just been a very unsettled time. I think a lot of high school students are delaying doing anything because they aren’t in a kind of mind frame or frame of reference to think about the future too much. And then, of course, the events of the last two weeks with all the civil unrest and all those things going on, it’s just added more questions to where people are right now with their plans for the fall. Even though for me the fall is not that far away for young people, three months is a long time.

We know that some families are considering a gap year, just not going to school. Although, if you’re not working and you don’t have a whole lot to do, I just can’t imagine sitting on your hands all fall semester. But we know there are all those variables right now in terms of what people are thinking. So, I have no crystal ball for fall enrollment. We could see an increase; we could see a decrease. It’s all over the place at this point.

EEDC: For those deciding to enter in the fall, what kind of resources are available?

Dr. Coppersmith: There’s always Pell Grants for students that are in the lower socioeconomic category to help pay for school. We have the PROMISE scholarship program that did get improved through legislation this past year, making the application process a little friendlier. It’s available for the middle-class students that are not necessarily eligible for Pell funding from the federal government.

EEDC: Is Chesapeake College looking beyond the trades?

Dr. Coppersmith: Sure. About half or roughly half of our mission is the transfer mission, which is the students that want to be education or business or history majors or who want to major in the liberal arts. Those possibilities are still there, and we do that very well. We have a very strong liberal arts and sciences curriculum, and our students do very well on transfer.

We’ve also got a number of students that are finishing a lot of credits for dual enrollment. They’re not considered freshmen for us until they come to our campus. So, we don’t have a real command of the statistics on that. But we know a part of this early transfer process is students have more credits accumulated before they even come to Chesapeake because of doing dual enrollment in their high schools. With dual enrollment, you can get all those generals out of the way, math, English, sociology, and psychology. You can finish those before transferring to your university or college of choice, where you’re going to pursue your upper-division courses in the program you selected.

About 25% of our enrollment, give or take a point or two, were high school students enrolled in our dual enrollment college program. And that’s a very significant part of our enrollment picture for the year. So, we’ll be continuing to do that.

EEDC: Anything else you’d like to add?

Dr. Coppersmith: I would like to reiterate Chesapeake is a classic comprehensive community college. We try to cover all the needs of our region, whether it’s students that want to start with us and go somewhere else or students who wish to come for a very strongly defined career program, whether it’s in the health, which of course we’re very well known for that. We’ve tried to improve and expand our career programming and skilled trades. All the ones that you’ve heard about: CDL truck driving, welding, electrical, and HVAC. We’ve added Marine trades this last year, and that’s been very well subscribed, and we’re trying to expand that with a new grant to improve our equipment and our facilities. There’s also the continuing education, the short-term stuff—everything from real estate classes to ongoing professional education for people that are in career fields. We’re trying to do all of that and do it better.